What is Energy Justice?
Emerging from the concepts of social justice and environmental justice, energy justice aims to recognize and rectify existing systemic injustices in the energy system, and ensure that the benefits and burdens associated with the consumption, production, and distribution of energy are equitably shared.
“Energy justice builds upon the work of environmental justice and climate justice by examining the moral impacts of the energy system. Energy justice focuses the lens of racial justice, social justice, international development, and international human rights onto energy law and policy.”
Dr. Robert Bullard, Foreword in “Energy Justice: US and International Perspectives” 1
These are a few of the dimensions through which we can identify existing injustices in our energy system: the issue of energy access, the impacts of energy infrastructure development on nearby communities, intergenerational justice, and the movement for a just transition.
Energy Access: Lack of access to affordable, reliable, and safe energy is a global problem, inextricably linked with poverty. 2 As of 2019, an estimated 840 million people still lack access to electricity. 3 Considering unequal energy access through an energy justice lens, it becomes apparent that this number is not evenly distributed around the world and that these circumstances are not an accident, but rather the result of centuries of colonialism, economic exploitation, inequitable local and international policy, and growing wealth disparity.
Impacts of Energy Projects: Around the world, people and sometimes entire communities are displaced or otherwise harmed by energy infrastructure projects. By taking a geographic and sociopolitical approach to examine which communities are displaced or harmed by energy infrastructure projects, energy justice advocates seek to increase the political power of people and communities to participate in the decision-making process on where energy projects are built, and how costs are distributed. 4
Global energy justice and historical emissions: In the context of the global energy system, it is a reality that wealthier countries in the developed world have consumed more than their fair share of global fossil fuel resources, and as a result, are responsible for 79% of historical carbon emissions. 5 This leaves a much smaller carbon budget for developing countries that still require more energy infrastructure and a larger supply of energy to meet their populations’ essential needs.
Intergenerational justice: As a result of a deeply unsustainable global energy system, young people will have to contend with the challenges of rapidly decarbonizing the energy system, while ensuring that there is sufficient energy supply for all. 6
Just transition: As we seek to transition the global energy system away from its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the burdens of this transition will not be felt equitably. People and communities whose livelihoods are currently dependent on the extraction and production of fossil fuels will face significant changes as these industries shift. One of the primary aims of energy justice advocates is to leave no one behind during this transition, by ensuring that energy producers and others dependent on the current energy system are adequately supported with financial and community resources throughout the energy transition. 7
How is energy justice achieved?
In environmental justice and ecological justice scholarship, from which energy justice scholars often draw, there are three ways in which justice can be achieved: 8
- Distributive justice is concerned with an equitable distribution of costs and burdens associated with the production and consumption of energy.
- Procedural justice aims to make the decision-making procedure as equitable as possible, but ensuring that all stakeholders have access to the necessary information, policy mechanisms, and political power to participate in decision-making and provide consent.
- Recognition justice emphasizes the need to recognize that some people and communities have been historically marginalized in the energy system, and to value cultural and historical context, and different ways of knowing in the decision-making process.
Recent blog posts about Energy Justice
Coming soon: Global case studies
Confronting environmental racism: Voices from the grassroots. https://books.google.ca/books?id=yVr9lhrrTVwC&lpg=PA1&ots=3QdaXgo3vQ&lr&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
Decolonizing Climate Finance: Listening to Indigenous Communities Protecting Earth’s Lungs
Energy Colonialism and the role of the global in local responses to new energy infrastructures in the UK: A Critical and Exploratory Empirical Analysis. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/anti.12261
Energy Innovation and Traditional Knowledge. https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/energy-innovation-and-traditional-knowledge
Gender Equity in climate finance
Indigenous belief systems, science and resource extraction: Climate change attitudes in Ecuador. https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/GLEP_a_00389
Indigenous leadership and funding
Land Back: A Yellowhead Research Institute Red Paper
- Full report: https://redpaper.yellowheadinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/red-paper-report-final.pdf (search for “energy” for some relevant sections)
- Glossary: https://redpaper.yellowheadinstitute.org/glossary/ (Some relevant terms: Equity stakes, Epistemic, Self-determination)
- Resources: https://redpaper.yellowheadinstitute.org/community-tools-resources/
Future Energy Systems, University of Alberta
Recognising and supporting Indigenous leadership in conservation